Pictured at a Campus Reflection program are Alexandra Chafetz of Royal Oak, Joseph Shumunov of Farmington Hills, Grace Leahey of Royal Oak, Sofia Klein and Stefan Nielsen, both of Farmington Hills.
Pictured at a Campus Reflection program are Alexandra Chafetz of Royal Oak, Joseph Shumunov of Farmington Hills, Grace Leahey of Royal Oak, Sofia Klein and Stefan Nielsen, both of Farmington Hills.

How one student was accused of being a “genocide supporter.”

On many college campuses big and small in the United States, antisemitism is growing. This kind of hate affects a large swath of people, from students to staff to faculty members. A few weeks ago, during Judaism’s most holy of days, three antisemitic incidents happened at the University of Michigan, Rutgers University and American University. Antisemitism is clearly alive and well on campuses.

According to some reports, antisemitism is the most highly reported hate crime on college campuses. Antisemitism is not a single-school outbreak, but a pandemic of sorts that is slowly festering in all school spaces, organizations and even classrooms across America.

No matter how “diverse and inclusive” our school spaces may be, the Jewish people are often given a sorry welcome, especially as our identity is intertwined with the actions of a Middle Eastern state so close to our hearts yet viewed so often as problematic.

It’s funny, really, I went to a Jewish high school that made sure we were ready to take charge during an antisemitic incident. Our version of “college prep” was being told stories about antisemitism on college campuses and how to directly address it. I never really thought it would happen to me in a small Midwestern liberal arts college. I don’t fit the stereotypical Jewish “look.” I consider myself open-minded and I am not overly religious.

I was very wrong. From the start, in the middle of my freshman year, I experienced antisemitism directly. At that time, I became heavily involved in a student organization that worked on benefiting refugees across the country. I had previously done volunteer work with refugees in high school, so I thought I was an ideal member for the club.

However, someone in the leadership of the club did not think so. I had expressed my support of Zionism on my social media accounts, leading this student leader to ask if they could dig deeper into my “political alignments.”

As a Jew who explicitly defined Zionism as support for Jews to self-determination in their native homeland, but who holds a lot of sentiments critical of Israel, I thought I was in the clear. After several heated conversations with this person trying to prove to them that I was a “good Jew” and not some evil person, they finally called me what other Jews are being called on campuses nationwide, a genocide supporter. I was being equated to a supporter of the murder and imprisonment of Palestinians, going so far as to say that I am akin to an American Confederate supporter.

It did not matter how progressive I was, how critical of Israel I was or even how the Jewish people have historically been persecuted, I was being painted as an “evil Zionist.” I didn’t know what to do as my possible leadership position in the organization, my relations with other members and my mental health were all at stake. I went through every outlet I could find, including school administration and filing a discrimination case, both to no avail. I found support from other Jewish students who had experienced similar incidents.

In serving on the executive board of my campus Hillel, I know that support for Jewish students is deeply needed and, at the same time, I am fed up with the lack of protection of Jewish students in academia. American colleges of all sizes and locations are starting to pride themselves on diversity and inclusion where all opinions can be heard and appreciated.
However, when students disregard and dismiss a belief such as Zionism, which many argue is inextricably tied to Judaism, and according to many estimates, a significant majority of Jews in the U.S. believe, many are discriminating by default.

When campuses welcome a group, a religion or a culture, they are not taking in an individual person who “aligns” with general beliefs, they take in a whole people. This should not be a consideration made just for Jews, but a tenet of common human decency. @

Joseph Shumunov is a second-year student at Kalamazoo College.

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